Making It Happen: Integrating Computers into
an Elementary Reading Program

by Sharon Goldberg

TECH-NJ: 2000, Vol 11., No. 1

At the George E. Wilson Elementary School in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, third grade teacher Karen Pouria requires her students to write a book report every month. For the months of February and March the assigned genre is biography, and since February is also African-American History Month, Ms. Pouria has made the assignment a short research report on a famous African-American. To add an exciting dimension to the assignment - and to introduce an important technology skill - she taught her students how to find information about their individual on the World Book Encyclopedia CD-ROM.

This third grade class consists of 20 students, five of whom have learning disabilities (they attend a resource center part of the day) and 11 of whom receive supplemental instruction in reading or math. Ms. Pouria designed this reading project to strengthen their skills in reading, writing, following multi- step directions, and information gathering. Specifically, her goals were to get her students to follow oral and written directions to locate the information they wanted; find and read the information on their selected person; type the name of that person; answer five questions about the person, which would serve as an outline; and expand the five answers into a written paragraph.

Structuring the Lesson

To reach these goals, Ms. Pouria structured her class time to include a group lesson on how to use the software program to obtain information. She provided clear, step-by-step instructions while demonstrating each step on the classroom computer which was projected onto a large screen. These basic steps are provided in Box 1. As she demonstrated, she shared simple tips about searching for information, for example, that if many articles are found, the first one is usually the most relevant, and that if a picture is provided, one can click on the picture to hear the person's words or a spoken presentation. Ms. Pouria selected as her example Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When she clicked on his picture, her students heard him delivering his now famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

When her group lesson was complete, Ms. Pouria invited two boys to come to the computer to try using the program. They referred to their written directions, although not too often, to find information on Michael Jordan. The boys worked together and were successful. They closed the program and two girls took their places and successfully located information on Harriett Tubman. During the next few days, students used their assigned "independent computer time" to gather information for their reports. Most remembered the instructions that had been provided during the group lesson, but if they forgot, they could follow the written directions which Ms. Pouria had distributed. Headphones were connected to the computer so that students at the computer could listen to audio segments without disturbing the rest of the class.

All of the students successfully located information about their person, having followed the oral and written directions. They all gained practice manipulating a mouse and using a computer keyboard. Most importantly, they were all able to answer the five questions thoughtfully and compose their African- American History reports [see Box 2 for the list of questions]. Ms. Pouria was so pleased by the results of this lesson that she will use a similar format for the month of March, which is International Women's Month, during which she will have her students research information about famous women.

Sharon Goldberg is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.


by Kavita Taneja

TECH-NJ: 2000, Vol 11., No. 1

The Montgomery Township School District in New Jersey prides itself on implementing inclusion in its classrooms. There students with learning disabilities learn side-by-side with their non-disabled peers. The problems which the students with learning disabilities face are typical of many students in special education.

Student Profiles

John, a fouth grade student at the Orchard Hill Elementary School, has a significant discrepancy between his intellectual ability and his written expression. He has delays in visual motor integration skills for paper-pencil tasks, and his poor fine motor control makes his handwriting illegible. He also has great difficulty getting his thoughts down on paper.

Another student, Jessica, has difficulty with visual motor speed, visual closure, fine motor control and visual motor integration. These weaknesses contribute to her difficulties in reading and writing. Reading and writing problems affect both John and Jessica's performance in just about every subject area and interfere with their ability to demonstrate their knowledge.

To assist them in their written work, the IEP's of both of these students specify that they will be provided with an AlphaSmart 2000 keyboard ( The AlphaSmart 2000 is a lightweight, portable, inexpensive word processor with a built-in 4 line by 40-character LCD screen. It has a built-in 70,000 word spell checker. The size of a conventional keyboard, it runs on three AA batteries so students can easily take it to their desks and start working on it. Later it can be connected to a Macintosh or a Windows computer and the students' files can be transferred by pressing the Send key. It is a very simple device to use and no special software is required.

The AlphaSmart enables students to produce written work which is neat, legible and free of spelling errors. In this class the AlphaSmart is used by the students for most of their subjects ­ reading, writing workshop, social studies and science. What I found particularly interesting was that all the students in the class, classified and non-classified, wait for an opportunity to use the AlphaSmart. Since everybody in the class uses it, the classified students are not singled out and stigmatized.

[student's handwritten draft]

A portion of a handwritten draft prepared for the
" Should Peanuts Be Banned in School?" writing assignment.

[final product created through 

A final draft prepared by the same student using
the AlphaSmart 2000 keyboard.

Writing Workshop

Last year I conducted a writing workshop activity in which students were learning the skill of persuasive writing. They were to write a paragraph on "Should Peanuts Be Banned In Schools?" The students followed the steps of process writing. The contrast between John and Jessica's rough drafts, which were written by hand, and their final reports, which were produced on the AlphaSmart, clearly demonstrate the benefits of using this technology tool. John's handwritten version (see pictures on this page) illustrates his difficulty with decoding words, which makes his written work very difficult to understand. But his work produced with the help of the AlphaSmart is legible and free of spelling errors. The spellcheck feature is especially helpful for him in that it enables him to write without hesitation.

An Inexpensive Solution

Although computers have long been recognized as a powerful tool for writing, schools and teachers are still struggling with ways to provide computer access to every student. The Montgomery Township School District has purchased several AlphaSmart keyboards for classroom use as an inexpensive and viable solution to this problem. At less than $250, several AlphaSmarts can be purchased for the price of one computer.

Kavita Taneja is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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